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Two Poems i 

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 

Fall 1997 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Editorial Board 

Tony Genga telly 
Managing Editor 

Bob Bishoff 
Sumi Colligan 
Steve Green 
Ben Jacques 
Leon Peters 
Maynard Seider 
Me era Tamaya 

© J 997 The Mind's Eye 

The Mind's Eye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is edited 
and published twice annually by the faculty of Massachusetts 
College of Liberal Arts. While emphasizing articles of scholarly 
merit, The Mind's Eye focuses on a general communication of ideas 
of interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository essays as 
well as fiction, poetry, and art. Please refer to the inside back cover 
for a list of submission guidelines. 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Formerly North Adams State College 

375 Church Street 

North Adams, MA 01247-4100 

Mind's Eye 

Fall 1997 

The Editor's File 4 

Remembering Charlie 6 

A tribute 

By Steve Green 

A Story or Two for 2001 8 

Convocation Address, Fall 1997 
By Julia Alvarez 

[Re] cognizing Hamlet: 17 

A Cognitive Approach 

By Mcera Tamaya 

The Note 36 


By Paul Milenski 

Contested Beliefs and Rebellion 39 

in a New England Mill Town: 

Sprague Electric Workers in 
North Adams 

By Maynard S cider 

Two Poems 62 

By Abbot Cutler 
Contributors 64 

On the Cover: 
November Trees, Lino-cm by Leon Peters 

The Editor's File 


JLl is a great privilege to introduce the new Mind's Eye to the 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts community. Quite a few things 
have changed at the college, including its name, since the last 
edition of The Mind's Eye was published in 1989. That edition, put 
out five years after its founding editor Charlie Mclsaac had passed 
away, was the last to be issued in the original eight-twelve page 
format. This new edition is a larger but not necessarily more ambi- 
tious undertaking. As Steve Green's eloquent testimony to Charlie 
attests, the original "journal of review and comment" set its goals 
very high, and our more expansive offspring seeks to match the 
earlier journal's standards of literary quality and provocative subject 
matter while providing an opportunity to feature, among other 
things, longer and more extensively researched articles. 

We are pleased to be able to publish a number of exceptional 
articles and creative works in this inaugural edition. Meera Tamaya's 
essay on " [Re] cognizing Hamlet shared the 1997 Faculty Lecture 
Award and is related to a manuscript she is currently completing on 
a "cognitive approach" to one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. 
Maynard Seider's fine article on the Sprague Electric workers was 
developed from a larger study, a portion of which he has already 
turned into a much acclaimed theatrical production. The Sprague 
Years. We are pleased as well to be able to feature a guest contribu- 
tion to this first edition, the Fall 1997 Convocation Address by 
celebrated author Julia Alvarez, which is reprinted here with her 
permission. Further contributions by Massachusetts College faculty 

4 The Mind's Eye 

include poems by Abbot Cutler and fiction by Paul Milcnski. 

The coincidence which finds two pieces by members of The 
Mind's Eye Editorial Board in this first edition resulted from a highly 
successful competition for the 1997 Faculty Lecture Award, where 
both the Tamaya and Seider articles received an award and honor- 
able mention. The Editorial Board, meeting without Professors 
Tamaya and Seider, agreed with the Faculty Lecture Award Commit- 
tee concerning the quality of their essays and decided to publish 
them in this inaugural edition. 

The journal continues to seek articles from all members of our 
facufty and to welcome guest contributions as well as commentary 
in the form of letters to the editor. The deadline for submitting 
material for the Spring Mind's Eye is January 15, 1998. 

The Mind's Bye 5 

Remembering Charlies 

Along with his duties as Editor of The Mind's Eye, 
Charlie Mdsaac was also the Director of Library Ser- 
vices at then North Adams State College from 1969 
until his death in 1 984, The following tribute by Steve 
Green, a member of the original Editorial Board, first 
appeared in the 1987 Mind's Eye, an issue published 
in conjunction with the dedication of the Mdsaac 
Reading Room on the second floor of Free! Library. 


L-Jhortly after his cat Buffy died in 1982, Charlie Mdsaac wrote a 
brief remembrance, published later in The Mind's Eye. It's a lovely 
piece, sentimental but not maudlin, and like all his work beautifully 
written. Charlie ended it saying. 

Knowing he is not here any more comes to us in bits 
and pieces. We cannot give him up in one leap. Love 
is not like that, We loved him dearly. 
We are grateful that he came into this house, a blue- 
eyed buff and white kitten who added riches to our 
lives. He has taken a part of us with him, and we are 
diminished. We have let him go, but we cannot 

Charlie Mdsaac died in November 1984. 1 find that I am one of 
many who cannot forget him and, like those others, I, too, am 
diminished by his death. But Charlie would not have cared whether 
people remembered him as a person. Self-importance, ego, preten- 
sion were not what Charlie was about. Words, ideas, and causes 

6 The Mind's Eye 

were Charlie's life. He genuinely cared how people spoke and wrote, 
how and what they thought. He worried about whether we would 
be sensible enough to preserve our planet, our society, our commu- 
nity, and ourselves for a livable future. 

It is difficult now for me to think about the arms race, nuclear 
weapons, environmental degradation, poverty, or any of the survival 
issues faced by so many without remembering Charlie's wisdom and 
counsel. It is just as hard to think about any of the foibles which 
beset us as individuals without remembering Charlie's compassion 
and forgiveness. And it is impossible for me to take note of the 
arrogance or hypocrisy of those who would impose on others, 
without remembering Charlie's integrity and principle. 
At his funeral I said that Charlie Mclsaac served as an extra measure 
of conscience for us all. His editorial commentary in The Mind's Eye 
testifies to his passionate concern with the big issues. He knew, as 
we all know, that they won't take care of themselves, but require 
our vigilance, critique, and, if necessary, revolt if we are to survive. 

I also remember Charlie as tall, slow in movement, either 
grumbling or chuckling, thoughtful, concerned. And so many of us 
remember him whenever we think, worry, talk, or write about the 
problems of the world. As a stimulator of conscience Charfie contin- 
ues to serve afl of us well. 

Steve Green 

The Mind's Eye 7 

A Story or Two 
for 2001 

Convocation Address, Fall 1997 


T Then I was a little girl growing up in the Dominican Repub- 
lic, the two most important days in childhood were your name day 
and your birthday. Your name day was the saint's day after whom 
you had been named, and your birthday, of course, was the day you 
were born. Both were celebrated with a gift, maybe a party, and 
always a story. 

On my birthday, my mother would always tell me the story of 
the day I was born. 

On my saint's day, my mother, or sometimes my godmother, 
would tell me the story of the saint — in my case, Altagracia — after 
whom I had been named. 

Well, I have come to North Adams on a very special occasion. 
First, as I understand from Dean Collins, your name has officially 
been changed to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. So this 
convocation represents the first time this college convenes with its 
new name. This convocation is, in part, a name-day party. 

But this is also a very special birth date — we are gathering 
together to welcome the class of the year 200 f. For people of my 
generation, who grew up in the sixties, the year 2001 has a special 
ring to it. Along with the Beatles and Woodstock, Stanley Kubrick's 
film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was one of those defining cultural hall- 

8 The Mind's Eye 

Julia Alvarez 

marks. In our imagination, the year 2001 came to represent the 
arrival of the future with all its luminous possibilities and potential 

Today, you. the class ol 2001, represent that future. You will he 
the first class to graduate in the new millennium. 1 feel goosebumps 
just thinking of it. 

So this convocation is also a birthday, your birthday, your entry 
into this community dedicated to a liberal arts education. In four 
years, we will celebrate your entry into the world of that new 
millennium, 2001. Your education here in this cummunity for the 
next four years will prepare you for the role you will play later in 
that world. So, this is both a joyous occasion and very serious one. 
This is the beginning of your odyssey into your own life. 

What do we do on such a momentous occasion? Well, going 
back to the old tradition of my native culture, this is the time for a 
story, or given the fact that so many celebrations have come to- 
gether, this is the time for a story or two. 

I have already told you one of those stories. In my novel, In the 
Time of the Butterflies, which many of you have read in your first- 
year orientation program, 1 told you the true story of three brave 
women, the Mirabal sisters, who lived in the Dominican Republic at 
the same time 1 was growing up. It was they who started the under- 
ground against our bloody dictatorship. Their code name in that 
underground was, las Mariposas, the Butterflies. 

Rut I don't want to repeat myself and tell you that story again. 
Instead, this morning, I want to tell you another story, which I call, 
"On Becoming a Butterfly," and it is really not a story, but straight 
talk about the process of becoming one o£ the butterflies that you 
have read about in my book. 

First, let's define our terms. What do I mean by becoming a 
butterfly? First, I don't mean any touchy-feely, gushy-Hallmark- 
card, sentimentalized definition of butterfly. I remind you that in 
Greek mythology, butterflies were symbols for the souf. So the 
process I am talking about is the process whereby you become a 

The Mind's Eye 9 

Julia Alvarez 

person who is more than a creature, a person of compassion, a 
humane as well as a human being, a person who is living the larger 
version of himself or herself with all the doors and windows of the 
self wide open to the world. 

This process of becoming a butterfly is, in fact, what getting an 
education is all about. Why do we read the great stories? Why do 
we learn the discipline of a science or of an art form? To become 
that large-hearted, broad-thinking person, which is what we mean 
by an educated person. 

This is actually a life-time process. As Chaucer, one of the first 
great British poets, exclaimed, the lyfso short, the craft so long to leme. 
One life is just not long enough for you to grow those wings. But 
your college education is a good start. 

So here is the short version of that education. After many more 
years at it than you, I think I've come up with the three basic rules 
of becoming a butterfly. 

Number One: This is the part we always want to forget about. If 
you want to be a butterfly, you've got to put up with being a cater- 
pillar. A lowly, wormy creature, inching along on the dirt, closed up 
in some cocoon, not a single promise of wings. In other words, 
you've got to risk failure and make a lot of mistakes and put in the 
hard work of learning to fly. 

Let me give you an example from history and then a personal 

Think of the Butterflies I wrote about, the incredible courage it 
took for them to found an underground in one of the bloodiest and 
longest-lasting dictatorships of the 20th century. At a lime when no 
one dared breathe a word against the regime, in a generation and in 
a culture where women were not encouraged to have public lives, 
these women risked their lives. Think of the sacrifices they endured, 
the imprisonment, the torture, the terror of that final ambush. 
Think of their husbands who had to face the murder of their wives. 
Think of their sons and daughters, who lost their mothers at a 
young age, Think of the long years after the dictatorship when it 

10 The Mind's Eye 

Julia Alvarez 

seemed the worm phase would never end — military coup, civil war, 
disappearances, a marine invasion, pseudo-democracy. 

And year after year, many Dominicans kept heart, they did not 
forget, they put in the hard work. Finally, just last year, thirty-six 
years after the death of the Butterflies, the Dominicans went to the 
polls. They elected a young, forward-looking president, Leonel 
Fernandez, whose family like my own had spent many years as 
exiles in Nueva York. And guess who they elected as vice president: 
Jaime David, one of the nephews of the Mirabal sisters, who was 
four years old the day his aunts were killed. And the second in 
command in the State Department is now Minou. who was also four 
years old the day tier mother, Minerva Mirabal, was murdered on 
that lonely country road. The children of the Butterflies are now in 
charge. The dream of the Butterflies is slowly being realized. 

More personally, in my own life, I know that a long caterpillar 
phase is the name of the game if you want to reach that butterfly 
phase. For me this has meant many years of struggle to become the 
writer I am today. 

I grew up in another language, in another world, in the fifties in 
a dictatorship in a little island in the Caribbean. As a girl, I was not 
expected to get much of an education at all. My grandmother, who 
only went up to fourth grade, used to tell the story that she only 
picked up a book when she heard the teacher's donkey braying as it 
climbed up the mountain to her house. Needless to say, I was not 
encouraged to be a student or a reader and certainly not a writer of 

We were also growing up in the same dictatorship as the 
Mirabal sisters, fn a school just down the road from where I was 
going to school, a student wrote an essay in which he praised 
Trujillo, our dictator, as the father of our country. The teacher 
commented that certainly Trujillo was one of the fathers of our 
country, but there were others. The boy, the son of a general, must 
have gone home and told his father. That night the teacher, his wife, 
and his two young children disappeared. 

The Mind's Eye 11 

Julia Alvarez 

I grew up being warned that one must never ever tell stories. 

But life has many turns. In 1960, my father's companions in the 
underground were arrested. My father was next. We left the coun- 
try in a hurry on August 6, 1960. 1 was ten years old. Less than four 
months later, the Mirabal sisters were murdered. At the time, I 
didn't know how lucky we had been. All I could see were the losses. 

Overnight, we had lost everything, our country, our home, our 
extended family structure, our economic security, our language. We 
arrived in this country at a time in history that was not very wel- 
coming to people who were different, whose skins were a different 
color, whose language didn't sound like English. For the first time in 
my life I experienced prejudice and playground cruelty, which was 
no big deal when compared to the devastating cruelty of grown men 
back where we had come from, but when you're a child, such 
experiences can be crushing. I struggled with a language and a 
culture I didn't understand. I was heartbroken and homesick. 

But sometimes it is these hard caterpillar moments that lead us 
to our dreams. Because I felt so isolated, I discovered books and the 
world of the imagination where everybody was welcomed. I became 
a reader, and soon I began to dream of becoming a writer. 

But that dream of becoming a writer required hard work. There 
were a lot of barriers in my way. I might have left a dictatorship, the 
Dominican Republic of the fifties, but I had entered a United States 
where the Equal Rights Amendment had not been passed, where 
the civil rights movement was just getting underway, where 
multiculturalism and bilingualism were still unheard of. 

And so the education I received gave me no models, no proof 
that a woman like me could be an American writer. I read the 
Carton, the great works of English literature, but there was no voice 
like my own, no story like my own, J assumed that someone like me 
couldn't be a writer. In fact, I was told once that it couldn't be done. 

In college a famous poet whom I greatly admired announced 
one day that no poet could write in a language that he hadn't first 
said "Mama" in. In other words, you couldn't be a poet and an 
immigrant. My secret fears were confirmed. 

12 The Mind's Bye 

Julia Alvarez 

But the important thing is that I kept writing. I kept sending my 
work out. I kept working on those darn wings. 

Finally, in 1991, when 1 was forty-one years old and had been 
writing for twenty years, I published my first novel, How the Garcia 
Girls Lost Their Accents. The manuscript had already been rejected by 
several publishers. But then a little publisher, Algonquin Books of 
Chapel Hill, and a wonderful, skilled editor, Shannon Ravenel, saw 
potential in my work and gave me a chance. The book has sold over 
250,000 copies to date. 

What did I tell you? Stay with it. Do your caterpillar work. 

Rule number two: And this is very important as you are 
mucking around in the dirt, struggling with jobs, raising families, 
earning a living. It is easy to forget what it is you are struggling for. 
So, if you want to be a butterfly, rule number two is; Don't forget 
where you are going. 

I still recall a poem written years ago when I was teaching 
poetry in the schools in Kentucky. A young student, Katie, in 10th 
grade wrote: 

Why is it 
I reach for the stars 
but I never make it 
past the front door? 

Katie, girl, I wanted to say, welcome to the human condition. We're 
all torn between our daily responsibilities, our very real creaturely 
needs, our limitations, and our lar-reaching, star-catching dreams. 
To give up on that struggle is to become a diminished person, a 
person without a chance of becoming a butterfly. 

Wha 1 helps me remember where I am going is the company of 
great books. 

There's an old Yiddish story about a rabbi who walks out in a 
rich neighborhood and meets a watchman walking up and down. 
"For whom are you working?" the rabbi asks. The watchman tells 
him, and then in his turn, he asks the rabbi, "And whom are you 
working lor, rabbi?" The words strike the rabbi like a shaft. "I am 

The MmdS Eye \l 

Julia Alvarez 

not working for anybody just yet." he barely manages tu reply. Then 
he walks up and down beside the man for a long time and finally 
asks him, "Will you be my servant? " The watchman says, "I should 
like to, but what would be my duties?" 
"To remind me," the rabbi says. 

I think that is really the purpose of all great literature, to remind 


Reading Middlemarch I am reminded to strive like Dorothea for 
the deepest, richest life of the spirit. Reading Song of Solomon I am 
reminded that the enslavement of another enslaves me. Reading The 
Odyssey I am reminded that a man goes through many incarnations 
in order to arrive where he belongs. Reading Emily Dickinson I am 
reminded to spread my hands wide and gather paradise. And on and 
on, great books are my night watchmen. 

And along with books, my other great helpers have been my 
teachers. 1 am talking both about teachers f have had in school, 
hard-working men and women who will do anything including 
riding donkeys up a mountain in order to teach me something of 
value, as well as ordinary people I have met along the way who by 
their example or by something they say or do, teach me something I 
really needed to learn in order "to keep going. These teachers need 
not be intellectuals or people with impressive credentials. I remem- 
ber Spike Lee saying in an interview that one of the great lessons in 
his life has been that you can learn things from people who are 
dumber than you. There are all kinds of intelligence, and the one 
you might need at a certain moment in your life might not be 
butterfly intelligence, but cocoon intelligence, worm intelligence. 
Avail yourself of all of your helpers if you want to achieve your 

Finally, the last rule: for becoming a butterfly after you've put in 
your caterpillar time, after you've found helpers to remind you of 
your dreams, is — and this one is my favorite — Spread your wings. 

f remember how after severs! years of collecting information, 
conducting interviews, traveling back and forth from Vermont to the 

\A The Mind's Eye 

Julia Alvarez 

Dominican Republic, and thinking and musing about the Mirabal 
sisters, I took a deep breath and decided, okay, I'm gonna write this 
book! I was terrified. How dare I take on these huge, mythic lives 
and pretend or presume that I could render them on paper? I had 
done the caterpillar homework, as I told you, years and years of 
reading and research. I had found helpers along the way, who 
reminded me not to let the Mirabal story die. Among them, of 
course, Dede Mirabal, the surviving Mirabal sister, whose incredible 
courage is what has kept the story alive over the years. But now it 
was time for number three. I had to write the book. 

I said a prayer. I lighted many candles. 1 sharpened all my 
pencils and rearranged all the books on my desk. And then, 1 set 
out. And you know what? This part which seems the dramatic, 
exciting part where you step into the stretch Brno of your talent and 
ride your way to glory doesn't happen that way. You write a novel 
the way you fly, not with majestic soaring strides but wing stroke by 
wing stroke, word by word. And once you get there, to the top of 
that mountain or to the end of that novel, what you most remember 
and what you find yourself talking about years later is the journey 

So don't be fooled by goals. What a goal is really lor is to help 
you structure the journey, but the journey is what is important. The 
process of growing those wings is what is important. Once you get a 
first pair, there'll be a second pair to work for, a third. Writers know 
this. You finish one book, and already you are dreaming of the next 
one. Again you have to learn a whole new process in order to write 
a whole new book. Back to the caterpillar phase! 

The lyfso short, the craft so long to lerne. 

And the purpose Finally uf this process of achieving your dreams 
is to pass it on. The function of freedom, Toni Morisson once said, is 
to free someone else. Certainly the Mirabal sisters knew this. As a 
writer, this is my credo, to share with you, my readers, all that I 
have learned on my journey. To tell you the marvelous story. 

That is my particular talent, the craft of storytelling, but each of 

The Mind's Eye 15 

Julia Alvarez 

you out there has your own talent, and your challenge and one of 
the purposes of your education is to find out what that is, to culti- 
vate it, to use it, to pass it on. As we learn from the Gnostic Gospels 
of St. Thomas: 

If you bring forth what is inside you 
what you bring forth will save you 
If you do not bring forth what is inside you 
what is inside you will destroy you. 

So, now that you know my three basic rules of becoming 
butterflies, you can coast through the rest of your college education, 
right? Wrong. This is just the beginning, as I mentioned before. The 
journey to become a butterfly is what your life will be about. The 
journey to this podium to get your B.A, four years from now — the 
courses you will take, the teachers who will inspire you, the friends 
who will help you, the enemies who will keep you on your toes, the 
books that you will read that will keep reminding you — this journey 
is what you will remember, what will make you the person you are, 
what will bring forth what is inside you so that you may pass it on 
to someone else. 

So, Class of 2001, work hard and dream big and have fun along 
the way and don't forget to spread your wings. And as my mother 
and godmother used to say, after telling me stories on my birthday 
and on my saint's day, Feliz cumpleanos. Happy Birthday! Fdkidades, 

16 The Mind's Eye 

[Re] cognizing Hamlet 
A Cognitive Approach 


"In this regard, phenomenology represents a return 
to naivete. It liberates sight and renders it 
attentive to all the richness of the real. " 

Paul Ricoeur, "Philosophy of Will and Action" 
in Reagan, ed. The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. 70. 

Jk J^amlet needs no introduction. Along with Coca-Cola and 
Michael Jackson, the play has acquired the status of a cultural fetish. 
The very name, Hamlet, rings a bell, even among those who may 
not have read the play: it evokes the image of a figure clad in black, 
given to extremes of introspection and violent action. The play also 
supplies quotes for every occasion. "To be or not to be" is just the 
most banal of them; others, whose source is often unrecognized, 
have become a part of the English language. The best known play 
by arguably the best known playwright in the world, Hamlet is a 
perennial box-office success and provides grist to the scholarly mill. 
A glance at the bookshelves in the library tells us that Hamlet is the 
subject of the greatest number of books on Shakespeare, who 
because of his prolific output {37 plays and assorted poems ) occupies 

The Mind's Eye f7 

Miera Tamaya 

more shelf-space than any other single author. Each age has a 
distinctive interpretation of the title character of the play: we have 
romantic Hamlets, Freudian Hamlets, anthropological Hamlets, and 
Marxist Hamlets. The dominant intellectual preoccupation of each 
era offers a new hermeneutical framework for the play, 

The last decade of the twentieth century has been referred to as 
the "Decade of the Brain" (New York Times 19 Nov. 1996: C 1 ) be- 
cause, under the general rubric of cognitive studies, all aspects of 
how the brain works to process information and emotion, necessary 
for successful survival in the world, have been studied, resulting in 
revolutionary advances in our understanding of the mind. In 
Hamlet, Shakespeare dramatizes the problem of surviving and acting 
in a world that the prince has inherited, in which competing and 
contradictory ideologies make cognitive clarity difficult, il not 
impossible. The Marxist critic Raymond Williams has argued 
persuasively that ideology functions in our consciousness not only 
as a set Of abstract concepts, but as "structures of feeling" {Marxism 
and Literature 132). In this paper, I propose to examine the role of 
emotion in Hamlet's cognitive processes. To avoid monotony, I will 
use the words emotion, affect, and feeling interchangeably, as thouglr 
they were synonymous. 

In recent years, cognitive studies have been at the forefront of 
research in several disciplines: philosophy, psychology and neuro- 
science. Philosophers Paul Ricoeur and John Searle, psychologists 
Richard Lazarus and Joseph Jones, and the neuroscientist Antonio 
Damasio have all come to the conclusion that the dualistic model of 
consciousness — res cogitans (the reasoning mind) and res extensa 
(bodily sensation or passion)— a legacy of the Platonic and the 
Judeo-Christian tradition, most influentially articulated in the 
seventeenth century by the French philosopher Rene Descartes, 
simply does not bear examination. The development of sophisti- 
cated brain scanning technology such as PET (Positron Emission 
Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) have enabled 
neuroscientists to study the exact locations of brain functions. One 

18 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

astounding discovery is that the neuronal pathways of reason and 
emotion are so intricately connected as to be virtually indistinguish- 
able. The traditional assumption that the lower brain, the amygdala, 
is the regulator of emotion and physiological reflexes while the 
higher brain, the frontal cortex, is the seat of reason, does not do 
justice to the intricate neural connections between the two. Emo- 
tional Intelligence, the title of a book by the Harvard psychologist 
Daniel Goleman, has made the concept of EQ, Emotional Intelli- 
gence, almost as familiar as IQ. When the cover of Time (2 Oct. 95) 
asks in bold black and red type, "What's your EQ?" the concept is 
well on the way to becoming a buzzword. Even as I write this, the 
latest New York Times Book Review ( 1 Dec. 1 996; 30) has a review of 
yet another book on the subject, The Emotional Brain, by Joseph 
LeDoux, a professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York 

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrates that while 
emotion can have damaging effects on the reasoning process, the 
absence of emotion can be no less damaging to rationality. In his 
words: "Feelings, along with the emotions they come from, are not a 
luxury. They serve as internal guides and they help us to communi- 
cate to others signals that can also guide them. And feelings are 
neither intangible nor elusive. Contrary to traditional scientific 
opinion, feelings are just as cognitive as other percepts" (XII). 
The title of Damasio's book, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the 
Human Brain, could be the epitaph for the reason/emotion binary 
opposition which has plagued western epistemology. Indeed, 
current findings underscore the original meaning of the word 
cognition: derived from the Latin root cognoscere, the OED definition 
"to know" conveys the sense of intimate, experiential knowledge 
present in the biblical meaning of the word. In this paper, I will 
argue that Hamlet is an extended dramatization of a mode of cogni- 
tion which I term affective cognition: a heightened, affect laden 
awareness of the phenomenal world, composed equally of sensory 
experiences, emotion and ratiocination. 

The Mind's Eye 19 

Meera Tamaya 

Before I proceed to analyze Hamlet in the light of new develop- 
ments in cognitive studies, it will be useful to consider briefly the 
sources of the play, summarize the main plot and outline the play's 
major thematic elements, Shakespeare did not invent the plot. He 
was a cultural parasite, a truly representative genius of his country. 
As everyone knows, the story of English and England is the story of 
rabid imperialism: political, economic, and cultural plunder from its 
coionies, so thoroughly assimilated that parasitic England flourished 
at the expense of, and nearly devastated, the host colonies. AJ1 of 
Shakespeare's plays have plots borrowed and transmogrified from 
British, French, Roman, Greek and Danish mythohistory. Ramki is 
derived from Saxo Grammaticus' Historia Danica, in which the 
author describes a Danish prince, Amleth, indulging in indiscrimi- 
nate slaughter to revenge his murdered father. Shakespeare prob- 
ably chose this particular story because Elizabethans, a frankly 
bloodthirsty lot, loved so-called "revenge" plays, a genre derived 
from the bombastic and bloody melodrama of the Roman play- 
wright, Seneca. 

However, what distinguishes Hamlet from other popular revenge 
plays by his contemporaries (for example, Thomas Kyd's Spanish 
Tragedy, George Chapman's Revenge ofBussyd'Ambois) is that 
Shakespeare complicated, or problematized, the crude revenge 
formula by combining it with another, more scholarly subject: the 
study of melancholy. Shakespeare may have been familiar with 
Timothy Bright's A Treatise of Melancholy published in 1586; there 
was also a Renaissance vogue for the iconography of melancholy. 
Shakespeare's Hamlet may be summed up as follows: Hamlet, the 
prince of Denmark, mourning over the sudden and mysterious 
death of his father and in the grip of suicidal melancholy, is ex- 
horted by a ghost (claiming to be the murdered father's spirit} to 
exact revenge on the murderer, who is none other than Hamlet's 
uncle and the present reigning king. The situation is further compli- 
cated by the fact that Claudius, the new king, has married his 
brother's widow, Hamlet's mother. The ghost commands Hamlet to 

20 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

carry out the revenge without harming his mother, or "tainting" his 
mind. The ghost's revelations and Hamlet's reluctant promise to 
carry out the revenge, "O cursed spite, /That ever i was bom to set it 
right!" (1.5.188-189) concludes the first act. But it is not until the 
end of the play, at the conclusion of the fifth and final act, that 
Hamlet carries out his promise to the ghost. For the most part, 
critical debate about Hamlet swirls around Hamlet's delay in exacting 

Hamlet's supposed inability to act has generally been attributed 
either to excessive emotion or excessive thought. At one end of the 
spectrum, T.S. Eliot judged the play an artistic failure because its 
emotion is "in excess of the facts as they appear" (Selected Essays 
125). Hamlet would have to be diagnosed as autistic or as having 
ingested the Elizabethan equivalent of Prozac if he had chosen to 
measure out his emotion in coffee spoons when faced by the follow- 
ing concatenation of events: the sudden death of a father while 
taking a nap in the sanctuary of his orchard (his death in battle 
would not have been so surprising); the "o'er hasty" marriage of his 
mother to an uncle who now sits on the throne depriving Hamlet of 
his inheritance, making his present situation perilous in the ex- 
treme. At the other end of the spectrum, D.H. Lawrence savages the 
prince as a "creeping unclean thing . . . Hamlet is far more than 
Orestes, his prototype, a mental creature, anti-physicaf, anti-sen- 
sual" (Twilight in Italy 75.6). Implicit in this emphasis on excessive 
emotion or thought is the Cartesian dualism between mind and 
body which has cast a long and almost ineradicable shadow on 
western epistemology. 

Both D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot were working within the 
Freudian legacy in its heyday. Lawrence's glorification of instinct, 
particularly sexual instinct, is too well known to need further 
comment, but T.S. Eliot's Freudian bias still bedevils much Hamlet 
criticism. When Eliot deemed the play an artistic failure because of 
excessive emotion, he, predictably, went on to state that "the 
essential emotion is the feeling of a son towards a guilty mother" 

The MindS Eye 21 

Meera Tamaya 

(Selected Essays 124). This emphasis on the Oedipal elements very 
effectively exorcises the political context of the play, so brilliantly 
evoked in the spare, staccato observations of sensory experience — 
the silence, the cold, the unease, all summed up in the opening, 
expository scene of the play by Marcellus' terse observation, "Some- 
thing is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1,4.90). 

The play begins within the traditional, ideological framework of 
gory, Senecan revenge tragedy, but by the end modulates into a 
remarkably modern portrayal of individual subjectivity, with re- 
venge served up in the form or style of justice. Paralleling the 
change from reflexive revenge to reflective justice, two antithetical 
dynamics engage our attention: inward into the labrynthine subjec- 
tivity of Hamlet through his emotionally charged, deeply introspec- 
tive soliloquies and outward to his actions. These two seemingly 
opposite but related dynamics of the play should lead us to reformu- 
late the central question: not why, but how Hamlet delays the 
revenge. To the question of why, the old joke suffices: no delay, no 
play. The delay constitutes the play, Hamlet constantly takes his 
emotional temperature, and engages in seemingly random acts 
while he delays. Rather than regarding these inward and outward 
movements as secondary to the main action, we need to ask our- 
selves how they function and contribute to the resolution of the play. 

Before Hamlet can "sweep to his revenge" as he promises the 
ghost, he is engaged in a life and death struggle "to see" the materi- 
ality of phenomenon, freed from the obfuscating symbolic represen- 
tations which constitute the privileged discourse of both uncle and 
father. "Seeing" clearly becomes for Hamlet a life or death issue, for 
his very survival is predicated on distinguishing between rhetoric 
and reality, seeming and being, friend and foe. His most urgent task 
is that of orienting himself in a familiar place grown alien, even 
hostile, a situation that contributes to his cognitive dissonance. His 
uncle is now stepfather and king, making his own position danger- 
ously ambiguous, if not marginal. His mother, who should have 
been a fellow mourner, is happily celebrating her remarriage, and 

22 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamayu 

his father's courtiers have transferred their allegiance to the new 
king without much ado. Hamlet has to achieve a degree of cognitive 
clarity in order to survive in a world grown murky with dangerous 
emotional undercurrents. 

It is my contention that Hamlet's delay in executing the ghost's 
command is supremely functional; he engages in activities which 
help him achieve the cognitive lucidity necessary for survival. Here 
we need to further clarify the connection between emotion, cogni- 
tion and survival. It was Charles Darwin who first considered the 
role of emotion from an evolutionary perspective. In his seminal 
work, Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin proposed 
that the development of emotions and their expression are on a 
continuum with biological evolution, and may indeed play a crucial 
role in survival. At the most basic level, the search for food, for 
example, is motivated by a "feeling" ot hunger. The frisson of fear, 
so beautifully described by Emily Dickinson in her poem about 
suddenly encountering a snake, functions as a warning not to step on 
"A narrow fellow in the grass." The feeling of danger, according to 
Richard Lazarus, is the result of a cognitive process he terms "ap- 
praisal" ("On the primacy of cognition." American Psychologist 39, 
124-129). The adrenaline rush triggered by the fear, literally moves 
us to "cope" with either a flight or fight response. It is worth noting 
that the words motivation and emotion derive from the same Latin 
word, the verb movere. As Joseph M. Jones puts it: "In effect we 
think of emotiun as something that 'moves' us to action" (Affects as 
Process 45). In other words, emotion plays a key role not only in 
cognitive processes, but in motivation and action. 

Since Hamlet has to achieve cognitive illumination before he is 
motivated and literally moved to act, we need to examine the impli- 
cations of ihe cultural tradition of melancholy that, besides the 
genre of revenge tragedy, Shakespeare drew on for the thematic 
resonances of the play. The OED describes melancholy as "a depres- 
sion of the spirits." Indeed, the Elizabethan cultural tradition of 
melancholy emphasizes not the emotional turbulence associated 

The Mind's Eye 23 

Meera Tamaya 

with grief, but emotional stasis. Renaissance melancholic figures 
suspended ordinary activities associated with daily living, to engage 
in morbid extended contemplation of, and ruminations about, the 
ubiquity and finality of death. Clad in black, the only shadow in the 
celebratory splendour of Claudius' court, Hamlet is the living 
signifier of melancholy, a state which goes beyond, and should be 
clearly distinguished from, ordinary sadness or grief. 

In modern terms, Hamlet is clinically, suicidally, depressed; in 
his very first soliloquy Hamlet contemplates suicide; "O that this too 
too sullied flesh would melt./Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,/Or 
that the everlasting had not fixed/His canon 'gainst self-slaughter" 
(1.2.129-1 32). Shakespeare scholars are familiar with the different 
spellings— sullied, sallied, solid— in the Quarto and Folio manu- 
scripts of the play. Whichever printed version we use for purposes 
of semantic analysis, it should be obvious that when the word is 
spoken on stage, all the different meanings reverberate in the closely 
allied sounds of the word. Hamlet is expressing the consciousness of 
the body as both too solid and corrupt, a feeling common to suicidal 
deprcssives, which often results in inertia. Hamlet articulates the 
loss of energy and capacity for pleasure associated with depression: 
"indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly 
frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most 
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firma- 
ment, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth 
nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors" 
(2.2.298-304). It is obvious that Hamlet's melancholy goes beyond 
sadness or grief; it is closer to the emotional numbness described by 
Coleridge in his poem "Ode to Dejection"; "A grief without a pang, 
vivid, dark, and drear./A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief." 
Coleridge goes on to register the beauty of the moon and sky much 
as Hamlet notes the "majestical roof fretted with golden fire" with- 
out feeling it: "1 see, not feel how beautiful they are." 

The major premise of this paper is that "seeing" without "feel- 
ing" is not cognitive in the deepest, experiential sense, and there- 

24 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Jamaya 

fore, not very useful for the rigorous demands of surviving, living, 
and acting in the world. It is that frisson of fear that alerts us to the 
narrow fellow in the grass and supplies the adrenaline rush to move 
away from the danger. The distinction between two kinds of 
knowledge — knowledge by description and knowledge by acquain- 
tance — proposed by William James will clarify matters further. The 
difference can be summed up as follows: knowledge by description 
is linear, analytical and interpretive, while knowledge by acquain- 
tance, acquired through sensory experience, tends to be holistic and 
syncretic. In James's words, "Through feelings we become ac- 
quainted with things, but only by our thoughts do we know about 
them. Feelings are the germ and starting point for cognition, 
thoughts are the developed tree" (Principles of Psychology 222). 

If feeling or affect is an essential aspect of cognition, then 
Hamlet's situation is dire indeed. If, as I have argued, far from being 
too emotional, Hamlet is actually struggling with the emotional and 
physical inertness that is symptomatic of suicidal depression, then 
his primary task is to quicken (in the biblical sense that distinguishes 
between 'the quick and the dead") his emotions, so that he can 
achieve the cognitive ability to see through the rhetorical verbiage 
that surrounds him. When Claudius urges Hamlet xu stay in Den- 
mark: "And we beseech you, bend you to remain/Here in the cheer 
and comfort of our eye,/Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our 
son. "(T .2.1 15-117), Hamlet has to be able to sense the danger in 
such proximity, in spite of verbal assurances to the contrary; for "the 
cheer and comfort" of Claudius' eye is indistinguishable from the 
vigilant observation of a mortal enemy. 

Hamlet's very survival depends on fastening his gaze on the 
material, the physical, which the rhetorical and symbolic often 
effaces and replaces. Both uncle and lather use rhetoric skillfully to 
manipulate Hamlet. To borrow J. L. Austin's term, their rhetoric is 
"performative" in function. Claudius urges Hamlet to forget the past, 
while the ghost commands Hamlet to remember. Both ironically, 
resort to the same argument: each ratifies his own agenda with an 

The Mind's Eye 25 

Meera Tamaya 

appeal lo nature. Claudius condemns Hamlet's persistent mourning 
as unnatural, "a lault to nature./To reason most absurd, whose 
common theme/ Is death of fathers." (1.2.102-104). The ghost 
makes an unchristian act, revenge, seem a natural, human impera- 
tive, "If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not" (1.5.82). The mur- 
derer and his victim appeal to nature to ratify their different goals: 
one to conceal, the other to revenge a murder. One is reminded of 
the French essayist Montaigne's clear- eyed vision of the social 
construction of values and their legitimation by an appeal to nature: 
"the laws of conscience which we say do proceed from nature, rise 
and proceed of customs . . , custom doth so bleare that we cannot 
distinguish the true visage of things" (Essays 1.114-115). 
Montaigne's articulation of the misrecognition of the social as natural 
anticipates the Marxist formulation of the concept of false con- 
sciousness: "the ruling class has to give ideas the form of universal- 
ity and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones" 
("The German Ideology" 138). 

Hamlet's major task is to focus on, and call attention to, the 
physical realities obscured by court rhetoric. When he decides to 
put on an "antic disposition," it further enables him to overturn 
conventional social systems of signification, so that he, "the observer 
of all observers" can "read* reality, ft is significant that the very first 
person he confronts in his new guise of insanity is Ophelia, the 
daughter of Polonius, Claudius's chief lackey. Her description of 
Hamlet's behavior is precisely indicative of his new mode of cogni- 
tion: "He took me by the wrist and held me hard;/Then goes he to 
the length of all his arm/ And with his other hand thus o'er his 
brow/He falls to such perusal of my face/ As 'a would draw it" 
(2. 1 .88-92). I would like to emphasize that Hamlet is not merely 
acting out his "antic disposition," but also seriously "studying" 
Ophelia's face, to glean the depth of het loyally to him. The opera- 
tive words are "perusal" and "draw": Hamlet reads Ophelia's face 
with the intensity that an artist would bestow on the subject he 
would capture in a drawing. 

26 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

Hamlet's visual focus is not limited only to Ophelia; he reflex- 
ively reads the physical details of everyone who crosses his path. I 
will cite just two major examples. When he encounters a group of 
itinerant actors, he notices that one has grown a beard, another has 
grown in height since he last saw them; "O old friend, why thy face 
is valenced since 1 saw thee last .... By'r Lady, your ladyship is 
nearer to heaven then when 1 saw thee last by the altitude of a 
chopine" (2.1. 431-436). Hamlet's attention to the players violates 
the decorum mandated by social inequality — for it is customary for 
the poor to observe the powerful as their very survival depends on 
the munificence of their social superiors. This is analogous to the 
relations between the sexes; women notice the moods of their men 
(while the latter are often oblivious of the feelings of women, 
especially if they are dependents), much the way dogs are alert to 
their masters' every move to figure out if it means a walk or a bone. 
Hamlet's attentiveness has no social boundaries and is, therefore, a 
radically revolutionary mode of cognition, 

Hamlet's egalitarian attentiveness to what the poet Blake calls 
"the holiness of minute particulars" is similar to the emphasis on the 
visual, the physical and the grotesque which, according to the 
Russian critic Bakhtin, forms the core of carnival, the popular folk- 
festival which briefly overturns state authority and social hierarchy 
in such celebrations as Mardi Gras and Halloween. The key element 
of carnival, in its diverse cultural manifestatioos, is exaggerated 
costumes which call attention to the basic physical functions — sex, 
hunger, excretion, etc. — of the human animal, freed temporarily 
from social norms and "civilized" constraints. The paintings of 
Hierooymotis Bosch capture the anarchic spirit of carnival in vivid, 
even shocking images. While carnival grotesqucries celebrate 
animalistic life, they also celebrate death: for example, during the 
Mexican Day of the Dead and American Halloween, skulls, skel- 
etons and other artefacts of death proliferate. Michael Bristol has 
called attention to carnivalesque elements in Hamlet, but 1 wish to 
elaborate on their cognitive function, the focus of my paper, particu- 

The Mind's Eye 27 

Meira Tamaya 

larly as they coalesce in three nodal points of the play: Hamlet's 
staging of The Mousetrap; his handling of, and meditations on, a skull, 
and finally the duel unto death with Laertes. 

First, the staging of The Mousetrap: when a group of players cross 
Hamlet's path, he asks them to recite "Aeneas's tale to Dido," 
especially when the Trojan hero speaks of Priam's slaughter 
(2.2.456-458). The parallel to Hamlet's situation is obvious— "the 
hellish Pyrrhus" pauses before he strikes "grandsire" Priam dead: 
"So as a painted tyrant Pyrrhus stood,/ And like a neutral to his will 
and matter/Did nothing" (2.2.492-494). The actor gets so caught up 
by his recital, especially when he describes Priam's wife Hecuba's 
grief, that Polonius abruptly terminates the speech, pointing out that 
the actor "has tears in's eyes* (2.2.25-31). While Polonius is embar- 
rassed by this display of naked emotion, Hamlet reacts very differ- 
ently. The actor's ability to feel Hecuba's grief becomes for Hamlet 
an ideal against which his own grief for a murdered father falls 
short: "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,/That he woutd weep 
for her? What would he do/Had he the motive and cue for passion/ 
That f have?" (2.2.559-562). Later, he decides to stage a play 
"something like the murder of a father/Before mine uncfe. I'M 
observe his looks,/ I'll tent him to the quick. If 'a do blench,/ 1 
know my course." (2.2.595-598). 

Hamlet stages The Mousetrap ostensibly to "catch the conscience 
of the king" (92.2.617). He achieves his purpose, the king starts up 
in great agitation and leaves abruptly before the play is finished. 
However, the effect of the play on Hamlet has not received enough 
critical attention; he moves from the inertia of melancholy to a kind 
of excited energy and sings a doggerel: he seems almost manic. 
Significantly, he does not talk about the king's guilt, but about his 
own artistic success and how it may point to a new vocation, if his 
own fortunes fail him: "Would not this, sir.. .get me a fellowship in a 
cry ol players?" (3.2.282-284). 

The man who cannot act, the man who procrastinates revenge, 
tias succeeded in staging an action. The enactment not only con- 
firms Claudius' guilt as it was intended to do, but more importantly, 

28 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

energizes Hamlet. Earlier, lie had admired the actor's ability to 
identify with a fictional character: now Hamlet himsell achieves 
such an identification. It should be noted that in The Mousetrap the 
poisoner is not a brother, but a nephew to the king. The murderer 
and revenger are (im)moral coevals, and Hamlet's identification 
with the nephew clarifies his own role in a possible future resolu- 
tion. The visualization functions much the same way athletes are 
trained to picture a move so that they can perform it. This visualiza- 
tion is crucial for Hamlet, because after all, he has only the ghost's 
word about the murder. The ghost is an insubstantial entity which, 
as Hamlet says, may be "a spirit of health or goblin damned" 
(1.4.40). Shakespeare's audience was familiar with the controversy 
about the dubious omological status of ghosts. The theatrical 
production, with the flesh and blood actors acting out the murder, 
validates the ghost's rhetoric with corporeal substance. This mimesis, 
the imitation of an action, as Aristotle defined drama, also achieves 
the function of catharsis lor Hamlet: it confirms and validates 
Hamlet's intuition, his "Prophetic Soul," and releases him from the 
stasis of melancholy into a state of emotional excitation. 

Revenge may be well served by an excess of emotion; Francis 
Bacon termed revenge a form of wild justice, marked as the critic 
Catherine Belsey has noted, by excess. Shakespeare, however, 
juxtaposes Hamlet against other wild men of action: Fortinbras who 
finds "quarrel in a straw", and Laertes who is prepared "To cut his 
[Hamlet's] throat i'th church." (4.6.127). After the exultation of 
successfully staging The Mousetrap, Hamlet constructs a verbal image 
of himself as a traditional revenger: "Now could I drink hot blood/ 
And do such bitter business as the day/ Would quake to look on" 
(3.2.390.293); however, when he finds the king alone, at prayer, he 
balks at killing him. His rationalization is that by killing the king at 
prayer, Claudius would be dispatched to heaven, not hell, a more 
appropriate place for him. It is a serviceable enough rationalization, 
as most rationalizations are, but judging from his other actions, it 
becomes apparent that Hamlet cannot take violent action without 
immediate provocation. 

The Mind's Eye 19 

Meera Tamaya 

Hamlet stabs Polonius and dispatches his old schoolfellows to 
their deaths without hesitation; however, unlike Claudius, Hamlet 
kills on impulse, retaliating in self-defense to perceived threat: he 
mistakes Polonius who is eavesdropping behind the arras on behalf 
of the king, he sends his schoolfellows, Rosencrantz and 
Guildenstern, to their deaths, because they are carrying the warrant 
for his own execution. Hamlet can act precipitately when, becom- 
ing cognizant of danger, his emotions are aroused and he is moved to 
action. Hamlet and Claudius are mighty opposites not only in their 
deadly power struggle, but in their modus operandi, ft is the latter 
which radically distinguishes Shakespearean protagonists from his 
villains. Claudius, for example, kills after careful deliberation and 
crafty planning, a process in which the reasoning, logical mind, 
fueled by ambition and greed, abrogates emotional bonds. Hamlet, 
like Shakespeare's other protagonists, kills on impulse, in improvisa- 
tory reaction to immediate provocation. 1 shall elaborate on the 
significance of this difference when i discuss the duel scene at the 
conclusion ol the paper. 

From the theatrical representation of murder, or to use Wendy 
Steiner's formulation, "the virtual reality" of art, Hamlet's journey 
on the road to cognitive acuity culminates in a confrontation with 
the physical detritus of death. Alter his return from the aborted 
journey to England, Hamlet pauses once again to bestow his total, 
concentrated attention on a seemingly random, unlocked for event: 
the digging of a grave. As the gravedigger tosses aside skulls and 
bones, singing all the while, Hamlet reflexively assumes his charac- 
teristic stance: all the senses alert to the materiality of death, the 
feel, the smell, the look of a skull freshly dug out of the earth. His 
commentary to Horatio, however, goes beyond sensory observa- 
tions. After speculating on whether the skull could be that of a 
politician or a courtier, or a lord, Hamlet concludes, "Here's fine 
revolution, and we had the trick to see't- Did these bones cost no 
more the breeding, but to play at loggats with them? Mine ache to 
think on't" (5.1.90-93). 

30 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

"The trick to see't." Hamlet has finally become cognizant not 
only about the immediate visual and sensory aspects of death but 
also of the cosmic cycle of birth and death. He sees with the physi- 
cal as well as the "mind's eye," the immediate, the here and now, as 
well as the "fine revolution" from the cradle to the grave. When he 
sees the bones tossed aside so callously (earlier, Hamlet has re- 
marked that the gravedigger "has no feefing of his business"), he 
feels the ache of futility in his own. For Hamlet, then, to see is to 
think and feel, obliterating the boundary between the 1 and Thou, in 
Martin Buber's phrase. It is this identification of the self with the 
other, and the universe, with its commingling of randomness and 
causality, that enables Hamlet to accept the king's challenge to a 
duel with Laertes in the spirit of what I can only describe as resigned 
readiness. As he tells Horatio, he has misgivings about the king's 
offer, but "the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, 
knows what is't to leave betimes, let be." (5,2.222-224). 

This paradoxical attitude of surrender and readiness to whatever 
may befall empowers Hamlet to turn his modus operandi to such 
triumphal yet tragic effect. Hamlet's style of action is best described 
in Hamlet's own phrase: "For 'tis the sport to have the engincr/Hoist 
with his own petar" (3.4 206-207). The element of chance, which 
makes nonsense of man's best laid plots, aids Hamlet. In a scuffle 
during the duel, he picks up Laertes' sword, which has been poi- 
soned by Claudius, mortally wounds Laertes, who indicts the king 
before he dies. When the Queen drinks the poisoned wine meant 
lor Hamlet, and realizes she is dying, she too adds her "dying voice" 
to the testimony against Claudius. These public proclamations and 
incontrovertible evidence of Claudius' guilt provide the auditory and 
specular proof and provocation that Hamlet needs for swift action. 
Watched by an unpiotesting court, Hamlet runs Claudius through 
with the poisoned sword, and in a gesture worthy of his literary 
forebear, Amleth, forces the King to drink his own poison. When 
Hamlet finally accomplishes his purpose, he does so in his character- 
istic style: impulsive and improvisatory. Familial revenge is served 

The Mind's Eye 11 

Meera Tamaya 

up in the form of a public execution, attested to by the testimony of 
Laertes and Gertrude and witnessed by all. Hamlet manages to 
impose his unique style on an action mandated by the outdated 
ideology of revenge commanded by his father. 

Style is a much bandied about word, trailing in its wake more 
than a whiff of the superficial and the frivolous. The OED defines 
style as a "manner of expression, manner of writing or manner of 
executing a task." I would argue that if our subjectivity is indeed 
overdetermined by a combination of genes, neurotransmitters, and 
socio-economic forces, then style is the only arena in which we can 
express our individuality, however much individuality or essence is 
a cultural construct. Even if an "authentic self" is a fiction, its 
affective properties are felt as real. Hegel's assertion that only the 
rational is real does not take into account that for afl the lip-service 
paid to "rational" propositions, the moving force behind ideologicat 
commitments is emotion. The violence, often suicidal, perpetrated 
by religious and political extremists is just one obvious example. 
Style, then, can be described as the impress of emotion on action, 
the defining gesture of felt authenticity. 

A cognitive approach to Hamlet, by deconstructing' the tradi- 
tional binary opposition between mind/body, reason/emotion, 
content/form, substance/style, has, I hope, illuminated the play as a 
dramatization of an experiential process. For the audience, cognition 
of Hamlet functions like a re-cognition of the human need for a 
heightened affective life, a distinctive style or mode of being. After 
all, it is a distinguishing feature of the human animal that basic, 
physical survival in terms of food, shelter and sex is never enough; 
to be human is also to be driven by the need to fee! alive, with all the 
senses, emotion and imagination enhanced and fully engaged. 
Religion, however dubious its origins and claims, mobilizes the 
symbolic forms — icons, architecture, music, liturgy, spectacle etc. — 
in ritual practices that address the crucial need for emotional en- 
gagement. Drama's origins in ritual (the cult of Dionysus in ancient 
Greece and medieval liturgy in England) ensure that at its most 

32 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

affective, it functions like a ritual process thai clarifies and enacts in 
mimetic form the cognitive struggle to both identify and distinguish 
the Self from the Other. An interpretation of Hamlet as a dramatiza- 
tion of a cognitive process should contribute to our understanding of 
the play as a cultural fetish that resonates in our imaginative and 
emotional life. "To be or not to be" is not the question; Hamlet is: a 
flaunting presence reminding us of what is due to our affective 
selves, so often forgotten in the clamor of our quotidian lives. 

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Harvard UP, 1951. 
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New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932 
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995. 
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Reason and History: A General 

Introduction to the Philosophy of History. New York: Holt, 1890. 
James, William. Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt, 1890. 
Jones, Joseph. Affects as Process. Hillsdale, N. Jersey: The Analytic 

Press, 1995. 

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy . London: Methuen, 1959. 
Lawrence, D. H. Twilight in Italy. New York: Viking, 1958. 
Lazarus, Richard. "On the primacy of cognition." American 

Psychologist 39, 124-129. 
LeDoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain. New York: Simon and 

Schuster, 1996. 

Marx, Karl. Engels, Friedrich. The German Ideology in The Marx- 
Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 1972. 
Montaigne, Michel. The Complete Works. Stanford UP, 1957. 

34 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

Ricoeur, Paul. The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur : An Anthology of His 
Work. Ed. C. Reagan and D. Stewart. Boston: Beacon Press, 

Ricoeur, Paul. Fallible Man. N. York: Fordham UP, 1986. 
Searle, John. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: The MIT 
Press, 1992. 

Stein er, Wendy. The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of 

Fundamentalism. Chicago UP, 1995. 
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford UP, 1977. 

The Mind's Eye 35 

The Note 



JL. uesday, May 6, the prediction — a severe rain storm and emer- 
gent cold front, but at noon the sun was shining, so I grabbed 
worms, hip boots, pole, and creei for trout fishing. 
T left a note to Beverly: 

"Walking to the falls, fishing the brook down to Cleveland Road. 
Be home about 3:00." 

We had talked about these notes, why I should leave them 
when I wandered off into wilderness. My contention was they were 
superfluous. Hers was that in tragedy it would save her the agony 
of uncertainty: she could send a search team to ascertain death. 

1 crossed Route #9, walked past Dalton Tractor, up the dirt road 
to Wahconah Falls State Park, down the steep path to the falls. 

I was alone, and though I intended to begin fishing farther 
downstream, I stepped into the end-race of the beautiful falls pool 
just to imagine I was the first to locate this pristine spot. 

Wet with spray, and thus christened, I climbed up the bank and 
walked a winding downstream path. 

When 1 stopped to fish, I was about a quarter mile from Cleve- 
land Road, in a steep valley. Below me I viewed a small field, where 
a herd of red and white Hereford grazed silently. 

Sometimes, I prefer worm fishing over lures or flies; my child- 
hood is thus recollected and I repeat the challenge of the primitive 

36 The Mind's Eye 

Paul Milenski 

I cast into a long, deep run along a clay bank. I did not get a 

[ moved downstream, cast into a pool with a big rock. Again, 

I moved further downstream. The herd of Hereford turned and 

"Hello, cows," I said. 

Thus reassured, the cattle dropped their gaze and grazed again. 

I cast into a riffle, saw a trout's opaque green form rise to shun 
my bait. It appeared thus: a slow day when fish are lethargic. I cast 
again, stared above and around me at nature's scenery, 

Then, o£ a sudden, I heard thunder and saw dark, ominous 
clouds rush into the valley. A wild bolt of lightning flashed. 
More lightning, cold rain, then pebble-size hail. 

The Herefords stampeded into a gully under saplings. Robins, 
cat birds, sparrows, chick-a-dees came spiraling past in a roaring 

I was knee deep in the river, my fishing rod a beacon for light- 
ning, a single large oak overarching. 

I exited the water, ran wildly through lightning flashes toward a 
steep bank. 

I dropped my pole and crawled underneath a large deadfall, into 
a coffin hole in the earth. 

Viewed from indoors, a storm is placid. Outdoors, amidst 
lightning and thunder and hail stones hard as pebbles, one clearly 
understands primitive man's respect for nature. 

A pair of titmice flew from a berry patch, perched near my feet 
on a little branch under the deadfall. They twittered, preened 
feathers nervously. 

The wind spiralled tornado-like; brush, branches, and wet leaves 
spun about; hail cascaded as if thrown down from the sky. 

A tree was struck by lightning, f smelted sulphur, and a large 
branch cracked and fell. Because I was already under a tree, the 
irony of my note to Beverly became evident— if another fell on top 
of me, who could possibly find me? 

The Mind's Eye 37 

Paul Milemki 

I counted between flashes and the lightning strike. One , . . two 
. . . three. Then just two, then one. 

I pulled my jacket over my head, curled my legs to my chest, 
pressed deeply into the muddy earth. 

It seemed 1 waited hours, the lightning flashing, the freight 
trains of thunder, the wind spiralling, until the storm settled into a 
steady rain. 

When the titmice left, I scraped myself out from my tomb, 
retrieved my fish pole, and began walking. I humbly trudged up a 
hillside from the river valley, walked across a corn field toward 

"I'm home," I offered when I slogged in. 

"I saw your note," Beverly said. 

"It wouldn't have made any difference," I said- 

"I'm sorry, what's that?" she asked. 

And it isn't until now that I respond: "The note is indeed 
superfluous. I rode out a violent storm where nature sends its own 
search team — twittering titmice, and depending on the depth of 
one's compression into the earth, friendly wriggling worms and 
burrowing moles." 

38 The Mind's Eye 

Contested Beliefs and 
Rebellion in a New 
England Mill Town: 

Sprague Electric Workers 
in North Adams 



-A. -JLislory reveals that the oppressed, be they slaves, serfs or 
industrial workers, have been more likely to obey unjust conditions 
than to rebel against them (Moore I97S). While conservatives 
might explain this behavior by minimizing the inequities in the 
system under analysis or by disparaging its victims, social critics 
point out that the monopoly of power which the rulers possess 
makes rebellion a very dangerous and unlikely occurrence. Yet 
rebellion, even revolution, does occur from time to time, even by 
the same people who previously appeared to be habitually obedient. 

In The German Ideology, the leading radical analysts of industrial 
capitalism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, note not only the 
material power which the capitalist class maintains over the working 
class, but also add that capitalist control over the realm of ideas 
helps that class stabilize its status. 

The MindS Eye 39 

Nlaynsrd Seider 

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: 
i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at 
the same its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the 
means of material production at. its disposal, has control at the 
same time over the means of mental production, so that 
thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the 
means of mental production are subject to it . . , (196.5, 61) 

Yet that is not the end of it. Through the process of struggling 
against the capitalist class, the proletariat may undergo a change in 
consciousness, casting aside the "dominant ideology" of the capital- 
ists (individualism, competition, and mobility), and developing a 
belief system of solidarity, democracy, and collectivism, an "alterna- 
tive ideology" of ami -capitalism (Allen 1975). 

In this context, we may simply view ideology as an "institution- 
alized expression of ideas which concern either preserving the 
present or changing it" (Ibid., 267), The institutions that generally 
transmit the dominant ideology include the state, the media, educa- 
tion and religion, Alternatives may also develop within those 
institutions or in other institutions, like labor unions, where work- 
ers have more control. 

For many twentieth century historians and social scientists, the 
task has been one of trying to understand why the American 
working class has not developed in a fully class-conscious fashion 
(cf. Fantasia 1988). In the past, the issue was often framed as "Why 
is there no socialism in the U.S." (Sombart 1 906) . Many, respond- 
ing to the question in that fashion, argued for U.S. "exceptionalism." 
Under that model, class solidarity in the U.S. has been inhibited by 
racial and ethnic conflicts within the working class, mobility oppor- 
tunities into the middle class, and a strong value of individualism. 
Presumably these, and other factors, were missing in Western 
Europe, and working classes in those societies developed a higher 
level uf class consciousness as manifested in militant unions and 
socialist political parties. 

40 The Mind's Eye 

Mayrmrd Seider 

More recently, the except! onalist argument has come under 
attack, as researchers have uncovered more and more examples, 
often from case studies, of American working class rebellion and 
have reconceptualized our understanding of "class consciousness" 
(Fantasia; Lendler 1997). Rather than phrasing the question in an 
all-or-nothing way ("Why is there no socialism in the U.S.?"), this 
recent work suggests that a more fruitful way to ask the question 
would be: under what conditions do workers engage in collective 
rebellion thereby increasing their class consciousness? In examining 
the factors that facilitate, and inhibit, such behavior, one needs to 
understand both the material (economic, social, and political) and 
ideological conditions. 

It is within this theoretical framework that I will evaluate a half- 
century of industrial history in North Adams, centered around the 
relationships between the local work force and Sprague Electric 
Company, a sizeable multinational corporation that at one time held 
the title of world's number one producer of capacitors. A dominant 
view, held by many in the broad community, perceived Sprague 
history as one in which employees and management worked 
together "like a family" (Burns 1989). Workers, while quiescent, 
were rewarded for their loyalty with steady work and a plethora of 
company-sponsored recreational and cultural activities. This view 
bears challenging on at least two grounds, historical accuracy and 
theoretical explanation. 

Sprague Electric and North Adams 

When I began researching this subject, my goal was straightfor- 
ward: to describe the patterns of labor-management relations that 
developed at Sprague from its move to North Adams in 1930 to the 
huge layoffs of the 1980s, f relied on previous historical research, 
oral histories, descriptions in local newspapers, and a wide variety of 
materials in both union and company archives. I divided the period 

The Mind's Eye 41 

Maynard Seider 

under review into two segments. The first segment, from the 
beginning of local operations until the late 1960s, was characterized 
by R.C. Sprague's brand of paternalism and relative cooperation 
with the local ("company") unions. The second segment, exempli- 
fied by more formal and antagonistic relations, begins in the late 
sixties when national unions organized most of the work force and 
is highlighted by a bitter ten week strike in 1970. 

In the course of my initial research, two findings surprised me: 
first, I discovered that a militant CIO (Congress of Industrial Organi- 
zations) union, the United. Electrical Workers (UE), had made 
significant efforts to organize at Sprague in the thirties and forties, 
and in a massive campaign in 1 944, had garnered about forty 
percent of the vote, despite strong opposition from management and 
the local union (Seider 1994); second, I learned that, in hindsight, 
many retirees felt that the ten-week strike of 1970 was ill-advised 
and actually contributed to the company shutting down operations 
over a decade and a half later (Burns). 

The discovery of significant local support for UE during the 
1930s and 40s surprised me because previous historical accounts 
and oral histories had virtually ignored it. The second finding also 
touched on the key area of social memory. Eighteen years after the 
events, numerous retirees conceptualized the strike as a mistake, 
even though the strikers had waged a strong, well-organized cam- 
paign culminating in significant contractual improvements. 

Despite what the historical record seems to indicate, the key 
beliefs or dominant ideology held by many in the community 
sounds something like this: for the first four decades when labor 
relations were cooperative and harmonious, both the work force 
and company grew and prospered: but when the national unions 
violated that harmony, disaster befell the local employees, ultimately 
resulting in the massive loss of jobs. Functionally, of course, this 
version of events— this memory— supports the company's paternal- 
istic "line" over the years. All will be good if you cooperate and 
carry out the wishes of the "good father," but disobedience will 

42 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Stider 

surely bring negative results and punishment. However, as sug- 
gested earlier, not everyone accepted this dominant ideology, instead 
choosing a worker-generated alternative. 

In this paper, the following issues will be addressed: How 
prevalent was the dominant ideology? What was the alternative 
ideology, and how did it develop? How did the struggle between 
the two ideologies get played out? These questions will be ad- 
dressed by examining some of the major events of Sprague history 
and the reactions to them by key members of management and 
diverse groups of employees. 

Paternalism, the "Good Father" and Company- 
Dominated Unions: 1930 - 1965 

A reading of three local histories that cover this period, one 
written in 1942 (Nierenberg), a second in 1976 (Bliss) and a third in 
1989 (Burns) leads one to conclude that the prc-riationa! union era 
of Sprague history was characterized by a weak, complacent, low- 
paid work force that cooperated with its local, company-dominated 
unions and a resourceful, powerful management. Employees 
generally enjoyed work, created a family atmosphere in the mill, 
and had positive attachments to R.C. Sprague, the paternalistic 
founder of the company, and to an array ol extra-curricular athletic, 
social and cultural activities. 

Stewart Bums focuses on the cumfortable, family-style relation- 
ships enjoyed by the predominantly female work force on the job. 
The pattern of "quiet unionism" (63) lasted for thirty years, until a 
new generation of employees opted for national unions in the late 
1960s. Raymond Bliss generally agrees: 

The [local union] came into being in the late 1930's under 
the auspices of management. The subsequent leaders . . . 
sought to make the most of the union that they had inherited 

The Mind's Eye 43 

Maynard Seider 

from an earlier day. As the [union] became outmoded, its 
leaders tenaciously sought to keep it alive and apart from na- 
tional unions. Finally, though, [that union and a parallel of- 
fice workers union] were displaced by AFL-CIO unions in the 
late 1960'S (2). 

Jay Nierenberg also argues that Sprague emptoyees and their local 
union were weak, generally uninformed and too inexperienced to 
deal with a sophisticated management in the area of labor relations. 

Sprague 's control over the labor force emanated from three 
sources. Economically, the company managed a large labor force 
with relatively low wage rates as competing wage and benefit rates 
in the immediate area were also low. Politically, Spraguc's strong 
connections with local economic and financial elites strengthened its 
hand within the broader community, particularly in contrast with 
the weak tics its work force had with other unionized and non- 
unionized groups of employees. And ideologically, the company 
had relatively smooth sailing. Its own paternalistic practices, which 
included an in-bouse newspaper and radio program, along with the 
support it received from the establishment media, not only fostered 
an atmosphere of support for its policies, but narrowed the space in 
which an alternative perspective might develop. 

Management power, in and of itself, might be enough to explain 
the relative weakness of the Sprague labor force. Nierenberg and 
Burns, however, detve deeper within the employee culture. 
Nierenberg faults the very "intelligence and initiative" of the Spra- 
gue workers during a nine-day strike in 1941 (151). Bums, in 
examining the entire history of Sprague, nearly fifty years later, 
argues that the conservatism of the women workers can be ex- 

by at least three interwoven factors rooted in their personal 
histories: the respect for a uthority ingrained in them by work- 
ing-class parents and the Catholic Church or fundamentalist 

44 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

Protestantism; the 'Depression mentality" of these survivors 
who always felt grateful to have a job; and the wariness to- 
ward anything that threatened to disrupt the 'family' cohe- 
sion with its organic structure of interdependent relationships 

What can we make of this summary, admittedly brief, of previ- 
ous histories of Sprague labor relations? First, we might argue that 
some of the authors' interpretations of events can be faulted and, 
secondly, different conclusions might be reached had the authors 
utilized additional historical sources. To begin, Nierenberg reaches 
his negative judgment about the strikers in 1941 in large part 
because he deems their strike an abysmal failure. Why? Because 
they only received half of what they struck lor and lost nine days of 
pay. But, one might respond, wages are always lost during a strike, 
and managing to secure hall of your wage demands against a 
powerful company might just as well be deemed a victory. Further, 
the employees staged a "wildcat" strike, against the wishes of their 
own weak local union, with impressive grass-roots organization and 
overall support. 

From Nierenberg 's own narrative we learn that the workers had 
organized a delegation of one representative from each department 
in the plant to present a wage demand and restoration of "certain 
(cafeteria) privileges" (140). When the company said no, 1,500 out 
of a total of 1,800 employees walked out. By the next morning, 
another 200 had joined the strike, leaving the plant with just "a 
skeleton office force." 

About 1700 people jammed the street in front of the plant, 
and marched about in disorderly lines displaying huge plac- 
ards. Approximately three hundred of the workers had their 
own cars there and were creating quite a fuss by blowing their 
horns without cessation. The crowd was obviously in high 
spirits. Drums and bugles were playing, and a make-shift band 

The Mind s Eye 45 

Maynard Seider 

was parading up and down. A good-natured policeman stood 
by and watched, but did nothing to stop the noise. Then some- 
one came along with an effigy of Mr. Sprague, the president. 
This the crowd proceeded to hang, until the officer interfered, 
and made them throw the thing into a near-by stream (141). 

Nierenberg's own description paints a picture of a well-orga- 
nized and committed work force. While it also suggests that local 
police remained worker-friendly, it indicates that the persona of R.C. 
Sprague, symbolic or not, might have already achieved an "un- 
touchable" status.^ Further, we also learn that the workers hired 
two local lawyers to help them in negotiations, that mass meetings 
were held to discuss the issues, and that CIO organizers tried to 
influence the strikers. 

Moving beyond the issue of interpretation, we might now ask 
what additional historical sources might we use to develop a fuller 
picture of labor-management relations during this lime. 
Nierenberg's mention of CIO organizers in town provides a clue. 
Millions of American workers had already been organized by a 
revitalized industrial union movement under the auspices of the 
CIO during the late 1 930s and early 1940s, In fact, the UE had 
organized huge plants not far from North Adams, in Pittsfield (Nash) 
and in Schenectady (Zahavi). 

Bliss also refers to UE organizers in North Adams in the early 
1 940s but doesn't develop the story. For the most part, oral histories 
with Sprague retirees virtually ignore national union organizers, 
with one exception. Many workers remembered Gerry Steinberg, a 
Sprague production worker, as working for a CIO union. They also 
invariably referred to him as a "Communist." In some previous 
research (Seider 1994), 1 had examined the UE historical archives, 
looking for information on its activities at Sprague and for material 
on the role that Steinberg played during that time period. 

The union archives, which provide a treasure chest of informa- 
llon, raise doubts about the model of the "universally weak, compli- 

46 The Minds Eye 

Maynard Seider 

ant worker." Several extensive union drives were carried out, and 
local workers invariably played a key role. Documents indicate that 
UE nearly organized the production workers in North Adams in 
1938 and, again, came close in 1944 when a huge union eflort led 
by six organizers almost vanquished the coalition of company union 
and Sprague management. In 1948, the defeated CIO union came 
close again, and four years later, successfully organized a Sprague 
branch plant in Bennington, Vermont. 

Another data source provided even more evidence that a 
significant proportion of the Sprague work force actively worked for 
or at least supported a more radical and militant union to represent 
their interests. Ironically, this source was the company's own 
archives, which, not only contained a set of the UE local's newslet- 
ters and otfier union materials, but also held management reports 
indicating their fear of local UE successes. We learn that the 
company's well-developed strategy of stopping the UE included 
collaboration with Bill Stackpole, the long-time leader of the local 
union. 3 

This additional evidence, of course, not only changes the 
narrative of worker behavior during the thirties and forties, but also 
calls into question some of the aforementioned explanations of 
worker actions (or inactions) by the local historians. Turning to 
Burns, for example, we must take issue with his focus on Catholic 
working class socialization amid a Depression "mentality" as ex- 
plaining worker conservatism. Even if those factors helped to 
explain conservative worker behavior, how are we now going to 
explain the more radical activist behavior of another group of 
Sprague workers who also grew up Catholic and working class 
during the Depression? 

We find both groups of workers, and their representatives, 
struggling for legitimacy, arguing that their perspective is not only 
best for the work force, but for the "community" at large. Thus, in 
1938, James Wall, the owner of the Wall Streeter Shoe Company 
and a financial backer and friend of R.C. Sprague, tried to convince 

The Mina "s Eye 47 

Maynard Seider 

UE opponents of the "company" union to withdraw their decertifi- 
cation charges against the local. The response from UE to Wall 
indicates the common ground upon which the battle of ideas was 

We believe that our action in forming a local ol the U.E. . . . 
will not only aid a great number of family-heads and support- 
ers of families to higher standard of living, but will be an im- 
portant factor in creating a fuller social and cultural life for 
our membership and all ourfriends. We are ready to seriously 
consider ... all and any advice which would help us achieve 
our aims, which are no different, we believe, than the aims of 
the people of North Adams as a whole- That is, to be better 
Americans and to make our city an example of prosperity 
(Seider 1994, 60-61). 

Six years iater, a similar straggle over "community" ensued, but 
this time hostility marked the language of both sides. In a series ol 
rival ads leading up to a company-wide election campaign, the local 
union accused UE of being outsiders, "carpetbaggers," and Commu- 
nists, and of raising focal dues to- enrich their national officers. UE 
responded with a list of local old timers who supported them, a 
photo of a backer's son in military uniform, and argued that a vote 
for UE was "the American way" (Ibid., 68-69). 

A fuller picture of the Sprague work force now includes hun- 
dreds of well -organized local workers opposed to the local union, 
supported by an activist national union, dozens of pro-UE stewards 
on the shop floor, lull-time and volunteer organizers, and a commu- 
nications network based on an informative newsletter, radio and 
newspaper ads. With these resources, and confidence, these rebels 
proved able to combat the combined management-local union 
forces not only within the plant, but in the battle for ideas, within 
the community. We will see a similar struggle, and a comparable 
alternative ideology, in the late 1960s and in the 1970 strike when, 
once again, the insurgents gained their voice. 

48 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

National Unions, the Strike and the Demise of Sprague: 
1966 - 1987" 

Fueled by war orders, Sprague Electric grew enormously during 
the forties, ultimately expanding into the 29 building complex that 
had been the Arnold Print Works and now houses the Massachu- 
setts Museum of Contemporary Art. After World War Ii, the aero- 
space market added to military orders and the development of 
television aided the company's continued growth. From 1940-1967, 
sales and earnings climbed an astounding annual average of 16.5 
percent. In 1967, now a Fortune 500 company and the nation's 
leading producer of capacitors, Sprague Electric cleared a profit of 
$8.8 million on sales of over S141 million. 

A year earlier, local employment at Sprague reached its highest 
level, 4,157, an enormous number for a city of less than 20,000 
people. However, the local work force accounted for just one third 
of Sprague's t2,000 employees located at more than two dozen 
world-wide locations, In late 1966, production workers in North 
Adams voted out their long-time local union for an AFL-CIO 
affiliate, the International Union of Electric Workers (HIE), In 1969, 
the office and technical workers dumped their local union for the 
American Federation of Technical Employees (AFTE). 

Waller Wood, lUE's president, represented a new generation of 
Sprague worker, more formally educated, more knowledgeable in 
the area of labor relations, less provincial and more militant. Wood 
had served as president, of the previous union, and using that 
position, persuaded the production and maintenance workers to 
shift allegiance to an international union. Throughout the fifties 
and sixties, pay increases did not keep pace with prices, and as the 
company grew, it also became more impersonal. As Wood put it, 
"They forgot about us." The new union nearly struck in 1967, but 
at the last moment, at an outdoor meeting attended by over 1 500 
workers, IUE Local #200 held back. 

Negotiations lor the next contract began in 1969 and during that 

The Mind's Eye 49 

Maynard Seider 

period and the strike to follow, R.C. Sprague himself kept in dose 
contact with his industrial relations staff, asking questions, making 
suggestions, and enforcing final decisions. He was a stubborn 
"father," one who didn't like to be crossed, and one who believed 
that internal arguments should be kept within the family. Not 
surprisingly, he strongly opposed arbitration as the final step in the 
grievance process, since that would cede authority to an outsider. 
He also rejected union demands for a contract that would require 
new workers to join the union. Approaching seventy years of age 
but still vigorously running the company, R.C.'s spirit and actions 
dominated the negotiations. He took it all personally, never really 
believing that his workers would strike. But his employees, increas- 
ingly aware of working conditions and labor contracts in comparable 
settings, seemed willing to reject the "family" model, to say "no" to 
the patriarch, even if it meant withholding their labor, 

In February, each of the three unions voted for strike authoriza- 
tion. As positions hardened, all sides used the local newspaper, the 
Transcript, through ads, letters and interviews to take their case to 
the broad community. Long-time Transcript editor James A. 
Hardman, Jr. cautioned the unions about striking: "The community 
. . . hopes the unions will be realistic in assessing what is possible, 
and will not embark on a fruitless battle which might cost them 
more, in the end, than they can gain." While the local newspaper 
tended to be moderate and measured in tone, it appeared to tilt 
toward management at this point, and maintained an increasingly 
pro-management posture throughout the strike. Fifteen years 
earlier, Hardman had incurred the wrath of R.C. Sprague when he 
criticized the company for its heavy-handed opposition to Dragon 
Cement Company moving into town. But this time around, 
Hardman spared management from his critical pen and when the 
strike ended in May, R.C. Sprague personally thanked him for his 

Once the strike began, the company set into motion its plan to 
manufacture capacitors with management personnel. Since only 5 

50 The. Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

Office and technical workers (AFTE) begin ilie strike on a 
wintry day. Production workers, across the street, honor the 
picket lines and later officially join the strike themselves. 

Walter Wood, president of the production workers union (IUE), gestures to 
local police officers, while Joe Lora, chief steward of the machinists' union, 
looks on. 

The Mind's Eye 51 

Maynsrd Seider 

R.C. Sprague, founder and chairman of the company, shares a light moment 
at the picket line with Bill Pratt. 

Tempers flare by the Marshall Street gatehouse. 

Thank to the North Adams Transcript for permission to reprint all four photos. 
52 The MindS Eye 

Maynard Seider 

percent ot the workers scabbed, Sprague received little help from 
experienced line and office workers. On the picket line, the rebels 
managed to hold firm, often marching belly to backside, in three 
concentric circles, determined to build solidarity and keep scabs out. 
Union leadership rose to the occasion, maintaining a disciplined 
organization, publishing numerous strike bulletins and keeping its 
membership well-informed of developments. In the community 
itself, both management and labor battled to win the hearts and 
minds of those outside of the Sprague (now estranged) family. The 
company presented its side of the story with full page ads in the 
Transcript and with radio programs. Editorially, the radio station 
gave a vigorous defense of Sprague, while it tore into the union 
leadership for keeping the strike going. 

Mabel Lewitt, one of the union pioneers back in the thirties, 
walked the picket line now, as did her husband. But the stipend 
they received from the union wasn't nearly enough to support 

We picked ferns and sold them ... |Y|ou go to the undertaker 
parlor, all the ferns that they put on the . . . flowers there. . . 
You go in the woods and you pick them up. Then you have to 
count them, twenty-five in a bunch and you . . . stack them. 
. . . [T]hey got you so much a bunch. I think four cents a bunch. 
... We made better on feming than we did working eight 
hours in Sprague's. 

Personally, R.C. Sprague made a concerted effort to stay in 
touch with both management and hourly personnel during the 
strike. He directed strategy sessions with his senior management 
staff, visited each department, and talked individually and to groups 
of the salaried workers, suggesting appropriate tactics for crossing 
the picket lines. He tried his best to maintain civil, if not friendly, 
relations with the strikers, laughing with them as he crossed the 
picket lines four times a day. For some who crossed the line or who 

The Mind's Eye 53 

Maynard Seider 

tried unsuccessfully, he sent and received messages of support 
including one store-bought thank you card from three women who 
scabbed; "Mr. Sprague, Thank you for the free lunches during the 
strike. We appreciated them very much." 

A tougher side of R.C. Sprague, one very much willing to use all 
the resources ol power at his control, would also be revealed during 
the strike. As he had in f 955 when faced with the prospect of a 
new cement plant locating in North Adams, he raised the specter of 
permanent job losses. Within two weeks of the first picketing, he 
followed through, shipping about one hundred pulse translormer 
jobs to its branch plant in Nashua, New Hampshire. By the time the 
strike ended, the total number of jobs that exited North Adams 
totaled five hundred. 

The unions maintained a coordinated approach in their own 
public relations campaign, reacting to attacks on them by the 
company and media, as well as proactively reaching out to the 
North Berkshire community, fn a major speech to the Lions Club 
about a week after IUE joined the strike, 1UE President. Waiter Wood 
explained the union's negotiating position to the local business 
leaders, and also offered a critique of R.C. Sprague 's well-publicized 
speech to the Chamber of Commerce the week before. 

In late April, with negotiations at a standstill, the parties agreed 
to try mediation in Washington, D.C. On May 5th, after twenty- 
seven consecutive hours of negotiations, a tentative agreement was 
announced. It brought with it economic compromises including a 6 
percent increase the first year, and 5 percent raises the second and 
third years of the contract. As for the all-important non-economic 
provisions, the unions won binding arbitration and an agency shop. 5 
On May 8th, all three unions approved the contract, and Sprague 
workers had completed a giant step on the road to equity with 
unionized electrical workers elsewhere. 

51 The Mind's Eye 

Maj/nard Setder 

In the view of one of AFTE's leaders, Jack Boulger: 

We ended up with a good contract .... 1 can remember (in 
Washington) . . . R.C. coming around congratulating the union 
committee on a very fine job, and stickin' to our guns and 
winning a fine contract and he told us that he had been beaten 
and we did a stipe rb job — and of course then he came back 
and started moving the operations out of North Adams 

The Strike's Aftermath and Its Meaning 

In 1976, R.C. agreed to sell the company to General Cable, 
which in turn was gobbled up by Penn Central Corporation in 1981. 
Three years later, with R.C's son, John, as President, Sprague 
Electric announced that its corporate headquarters would be moved 
out of North Adams, to the greater Boston area. Within the next 
two years, hundreds of production and white collar workers were 
fired, and, in !987, the huge Marshall Street complex was closed. 
Except for a couple of small spinoffs, Sprague had effectively left the 

In 1988, historian Stewart Burns (1989) supervised an oral 
history project in which more than two dozen Sprague retirees were 
interviewed. Only one "had wholehearted praise for the strike's 
success." Some who had been part of management thought the 
strike itself was "foolish". Others, who supported the strike origi- 
nally, had come to view its consequences as harmful to the work 
force. Burns concluded that "much of the North Adams commu- 
nity" blamed the strike for the company's eventual exit from the 

Why had so many former workers come to blame themselves 
for the departure of Sprague and hundreds of industrial, clerical and 
technical jobs from North Berkshire? In the battle for public support 
since 1970, the dominant view presented by the company and the 

The Mind's Eye 55 

Maynard Seider 

media had been one in which the local work force made a bad 
decision by striking, as it led to a direct loss of much-needed jobs. 
As long-time Sprague employee Norman Chenail saw it: "The 
company gave them that impression. That's all they talked about . . . 
Christ, it'd been in the papers for, well since 1970 . . /The thing that 
killed Sprague's in North Adams was the 1970 strike'" (Seider 1993: 
41-42). In his recent book, John Sprague (1993b) reiterates the 
most publicized view: "The strike did more than cost North Adams 
jobs; it almost destroyed Sprague Electric . . ." 

If the workers were to blame for the strike, and the strike led to 
the loss of jobs, one could take this dynamic one step further and 
argue that these strike-related financial losses caused the economic 
downturn of the community, a condition readily visible to the 
retirees when they were interviewed in 1987. With any trip down- 
town, they couldn't help but notice the empty sidewalks and the 
boarded-up stores, a picture far different from their memories of a 
bustling past, on Main Street and inside the factory. 

Further, the dominant national economic and political ideology 
was not, to say the least, worker friendly. The Reagan eighties were 
a time in which corporate decision makers could do no wrong and 
fat-cat, greedy union leaders were fingered as the cause of industrial 
America's decline. The mainstream press heralded this view, and a 
weakened labor movement and rightward turning Democratic Party 
barely opposed it. So it should come as no surprise that union 
retirees would blame themselves for local job losses. Even a veteran 
unionist like Mabel Lewitt could say, in 1988, "Well, today I guess 
the union ain't no good, but then (1930s) it was good" (Bums 1989, 

Not everyone, of course, agrees with Mabel's assessment or with 
John Sprague's. Neil Welch, who succeeded John's father as Chair- 
man of the Board, vehemently takes exception with John: In an 
interview after Sprague's book had been published, Welch argued 
that "by 1972, we got back all our sales we'd lost. By 1979, we had 
record profits of $44 million . . ." (Seider 1995, 12). 

56 The Mind's Bye 

Maynard Seider 

In fact, the up-and-down economy of the late sixties and 
seventies proves to be a more viable predictor of corporate earnings 
than does the ten-week strike. Just as broad economic conditions 
impacted Sprague more in the long run than did the strike of f 970, 
the decline in local employment could not be solely, or even princi- 
pally, blamed on the ten-week strike. The capacitor company had 
accelerated its building of branch plants during the 1950s and 1 960s 
having made a decision not to upgrade its North Adams operations. 
Sprague employment in North Adams actually peaked in 1966, and 
began declining in 1967, three years before the strike {Seider 1993). 

In any case, the dominant ideology (and memory) matters, even 
if it doesn't square with the "facts" of the case. And many in North 
Adams do believe that the strike did lead to the company's depar- 
ture. Attached to that belief, many would also argue that if R.C 
remained in charge, most of the jobs would still be here. 6 If there is 
a Sprague to blame for local job loss, they point to John, president of 
the company when it left and a man known to dislike North Adams. 

During an interview four years ago, John Sprague (1993a) 
noted the divergent views that former workers held of him and R.C. 
People, as he put it, have an "almost uniform love and respect for 
my father." Then John went on to point out another side of his 
father, tough and practical. Well before 1 984, during his father's 
stewardship, some 2,000 local Sprague jobs were lost, many to 
reappear in branch plants built in cheap-labor, non-union locales. 
In fact, as John stated, more workers lost their jobs at the company 
under R.C.'s command than under his. 


A close reading of events during both time periods illuminates 
important similarities. A significant number of Sprague employees 
banded together in the late thirties and forties and again in the late 
sixties and in 1970 to challenge Sprague management and its world- 

The Mind's Eye 57 

Maynard Seider 

view. To do so, they had to reject the paternalistic notion that all 
who worked at SpTague — employees, managers, and owners — 
belonged to the same family, obligating them to obey the father 
without question, and to seek harmony at all costs. They adopted a 
more conflictual "us" vs. "them" strategy in both cases, and achieved 
some success in that strategy by developing their own resources. In 
both cases, they started their own local unions, affiliated with strong 
national unions that provided them with professional organizers and 
research tools. Further, they published iheir own newsletters, spoke 
out in the establishment press, became a force in the political arena 
and made connections with other groups in the area. As they 
became more militant, they developed their own institutions and 
contested the power of management. They brought an alternative 
ideology to the fore, one stressing employee solidarity, workers' 
rights, and a significant role in decision-making. In a reinlerpreta- 
tion of the family analogy, now the "children" were to be treated 
like adults, with a reserved seat at the table. 

It wasn't easy. The company and its allies, often fellow workers, 
had the best cards and fought vigorously. When the insurgents 
argued that they best represented the local community, the com- 
pany made the same claim. When the UE and their supporters 
made their case to the press in 1944, the "company" union used the 
anti-Communist card and the entrenched tradition of focalism 
(don't send your money to the carpetbaggers) to fight back. And, 
finally, the company controlled the community's economic re- 
sources, wielding the power of layoffs and, ultimately, the ffnal 

While the locus of this paper has been local, one must remem- 
ber that issues of ideology and social change need also be seen in a 
broader framework. Thus, regardless of any local initiatives, the 
massive conservative, anti-union national swing of the last two 
decades has made it very difficult for alternative views to develop. 
Conversely, we need to recognize that the dynamic national union- 
ism of the 1950s, the strong support for the New Deal, and a presi- 

58 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

dent who actually exhorted workers to join unions helped open a 
window of opportunity for focal workers during that time period. 

It is not easy lo visualize broad economic and social forces. We 
value individualism in the United States, and tend to observe poli- 
tics, sports, and entertainment by focusing on individual stars, 
cheering and booing them as the case may be. The canonization of 
R.C. Sprague and the demonization of his son, as explanations for 
our economic gains and losses, follow in that individualistic tradi- 
tion. But if we keep in mind that R.C. wasn't always the "good 
father," then we might not view John as simply the "bad son," the 
one held responsible for the economic woes following Sprague's exit. 
This isn't to say that individuals, particularly those with a good deal 
of power, aren't responsible for their actions— they are— but it's a 
complicated world, and they don't control everything. Viewing 
history through the prism of a "good father" or "bad son" keeps us 
from seeing and understanding the broad national and global 
economic forces that affect us all, and focuses our attention on 
others, powerful individuals, either as knights in shining armor who 
will save us, or as bati guys in dark hats who will destroy us. Either 
version keeps most of us on the sidelines, waiting lor someone else 
to make history. In the heady days of the laic thirties and early 
forties, and again in the late sixties and in 1970, the working people 
of North Berkshire took a different approach. They looked 10 
themselves to shape events, and in the process, while contesting the 
dominant ideology, changed themselves and their community. 


1 Antonio Gramsci has been the leading 20th century Marxist to 
develop these ideas. Gramsci uses the term "hegemony" to refer to 
the ideological control enjoyed by the capitalist class (Hoare and 
Smith 1,971). 

The Mind's Eye 59 

Maynard Seider 

2 This certainly seems the case for the police, although the workers 
themselves apparently didn't make a fuss when told to take the 
effigy down. 

3 Established in the late 1930s, the Independent Condenser Workers 
Union (the ICVV) generaily supported management, and was 
viewed by many as a "company union" (Seider 1994 and Bliss). 

4 This section is based, in parr, on Seider f 993 in which citations may 
be found. 

5 Under an agency shop provision, a new employee has two choices: 
to become a full dues-paying union member or to reject member- 
ship, but pay the dues. 

"During interviews, the "idealization" of R.C. Sprague showed no 
signs of abating. When faced with evidence of poor conditions or 
bad management in one section of the plant, more than a few 
retirees argued that "R-C. probably didn't know about it," thus 
sparing their positive view of the founder from facts they couldn't 
ignore. Others found it difficult to go on the record with criticism 
about him, even decades after his and their retirements. 

Works Cited: 

Allen, V.L. f 975. Social Analysis: a Marxist Critique and Alternative. 

Shipley, England: The Moor Press, 1982. 
Bliss, Raymond C. 1976, "A Study of Union History at the 

Sprague Electric Company in North Adams, Massachusetts, 

1929-1970." Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. 

Unpublished History Honors Thesis. 
Burns, Stewart. 1989. "Capacitors and Community: Women 

Workers at Sprague Electric, 1930-1980." The Public Historian, 

11 (4), 61-81. 

Fantasia, Rick. 1988. Cultures of Solidarity: Consciousness, Action, and 

60 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

Contemporary American Workers. Berkeley: University of California 

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd et al. 1987. Like a Family: The Making of a 
Southern Cotton Mill World. Chapel Hill: The University of North 
Carolina Press. 

Hoare, Quentin and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (eds). 1971. Selections 

from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: 

International Publishers. 
Lendfer, Marc. 1997. Crist and Political Beliefs: The Case of the Colt 

Firearms Strike. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1965. The German Ideology. London: 

Lawrence & Wishari. 
Moore, Barrington. 1 978. Injustice: the Social Bases of Obedience and 

Revolt. White Plains: M.E. Sharpe. 
Nash, June. 1989. From Tank Town to High Tech: The Clash of 

Community and Industrial Cycles. Albany: Slate University of New 

York Press. 

Nierenberg, Jay Louis. 1942. "North Adams: New England Mill 
Town: A Political, Economic, and Psychological Survey." 
Wtiliamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College. Unpublished 
Political Science Thesis. 

Seider, Maynard. 1993. "The 1970 Strike." Unpublished Paper. 

1994. "The CIO in Rural Massachusetts: Sprague Electric and 
North Adams, 1937-1944." Historical Journal of Massachusetts, 
XX (1), 51-73. 

1995. "The Sprague Strike of 1970: A Twenty-Five Year Perspec- 
tive." Unpublished Paper. 

Somban, Werner. 1 906. Why is There No Socialism in the United States? 
Reprint. White Plains: International Aptitudes & Science Press, 

Sprague, John. 1993a. Oral History. Interviewed by Maynard Seider. 
1993b. Revitalizing United States Electronics. Woburn, Massachu- 
setts: Butterworth-Heinemann. 

Zaliavi, Gerald. 1996. "Passionate Commitments: Race, Sex, and 
Communism at Schenectady General Electric, 1932-1954." 
Journal of American History, 83 (2), 514-48. 

The Mind's Bye 61 

Two Poems by Abbot Cutler 

Wednesday, Four O'clock 

In the underground room the writer 
stops talking. Someone asks a question 
about markets. Someone uses the word 
"formula", "agent", "distribution". Owls 
fly up, their talons scraping the white 
plaster walls. It becomes difficult 
to hear. A fly goes around and around 
the light fixture. Saxophones 
start up and fail. Spitballs 
that dried on the celling in the seventies 
fall off without any sound. An old man 
who has been dozing in the fifth tow 
is startled awake, gets to his feet, 
asks, "What are those mushrooms 
that come up by the old stump 
after two days of rain?" No one 

Walking to the car we remember the dog 
we've been teeding for years. 
What is his name? 

62 The Mind's Eye 

Little Things 

Somewhere there's a noise 

in the house, something 

that weighs very little. 

In the wall. Behind 

the bookcase. Overhead 

in the attic. No matter 

if our houses stick out 

like a growth gone wrong, 

no matter if they don 'I fit 

snugly around the animals 

in them, if they shelter 

uncountable machines, have antennas 

rising out of them. Mow down 

everything around them, put 

blacktop right to the door. 

It doesn't matter. Smail animals 

will enter, scurry across 

the ceiling, gnaw on the joists, 

grin from the hearth, 

eat your cd's, piss 

on a leg of your kitchen table, 

teach you a thing or two, 

curl up in the hollow 

of your soul at night, 

try to do something 

about all this. 

The MindS Eye 63 


Julia Alvarez, whose Fall Convocation 1997 address appears in this issue, 
is an award-winning novelist and poet. Her novels include In the Time of the 
Butterflies. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and Yo. Her books of poetry 
include Homecoming and The Other Sick: El Otro Lado. Born in the Dominican 
Republic, she emigrated with her family to the United States in I960. Ms. 
Alvarez teaches creative writing and literature at Middlebury College. 

Abbot Cutler teaches creative writing and literature at Massachusetts 
College of Liberal Arts. He is the author of 1S43 Rebecca 1847, a book of 
narrative poetry, and his poems have appeared in several publications, 
including Ploughshares, PotlatcXh, and the anthology. Under One Roof. 
Professor Cutler is the advisor for the annual publication of student writing. 

Paul Milenski is the author of numerous short stories and essays. He has 
won four consecutive PEN Syndicated Prize awards. A film made from his 
story, "Tickits," won the Gold Apple Award for the best educational film in 
1 993, An alumnus of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Milenski is an 
educator as well as author. He currently teaches and supervises teaching 
interns in the Department of Education. 

Maynard Seider is the author of A Year in the Life of a Factory, based on his 
experiences in a California transformer factory. He has also produced a 
play, The Sprague Years, performed at the College in 1995, using material 
related to his article in this issue. Professor Seider teaches sociology at 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

Meera Tamaya's essay forms the introductory chapter of a book on 
Hamlet, which she is now preparing for publication. Professor of English at 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Tamaya teaches courses on 
Shakespeare and other topics. She is the author of the book. Colonial 
Detection: H.R.F. Keating, as well as articles on John Sherwood, Kazuo 
Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Pym and Shakespeare. She also 
contributes book reviews and articles to The Berkshire Eagle. 

64 The Mind's Eye 

Mind's Eye 

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